Martin Scorsese loves a mafia movie, and his latest saga The Irishman is about as major as they come. The Irishman is the most expensive Scorsese movie ever, according to The Hollywood Reporter. It stars all your favourite actors from all your other favourite mob movies — Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Bobby Cannavale, and Harvey Keitel, to name a few. Oh, and it's just sitting there on Netflix, as of 27 November, waiting for you to give it three and a half hours of your life. Now, most cinephiles would be sold on those facts alone, but what if I told you that it’s basically a 20th century historical epic? The Irishman is based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt, but it’s also a real-life whodunit, with a mystery at the end.
Who Was The Real Frank Sheeran?
In the film, De Niro plays Frank Sheeran, a real veteran and working-class guy who picked up some unsavoury habits when he was in the military — like, er, murder for hire. Per Esquire, Sheeran acted as the muscle for Jimmy Hoffa’s Teamsters Union, whenever Hoffa had to… subtly suggest that someone go along with what Hoffa was saying — or else. Pacino plays Hoffa, the union guy who started union organising as a kid and worked his way up to the top of the totem pole. The key was getting all the unions to act as one big union, and it worked to help strengthen workers' rights in the country. But per Biography, a lot of unions had ties to organised crime, so Hoffa had to know the mobsters and work with them, too. Unfortunately, this led Hoffa to his own crimes, and in 1967, according to Biography, Hoffa was sent to jail for jury tampering, fraud, and conspiracy, and then-president Richard Nixon commuted Hoffa’s sentence and let him out in 1971. In 1975, Hoffa disappeared without a trace, according to PBS, and his case is still wide open. No one knows what happened to Jimmy Hoffa.
That’s where Sheeran and the mob come back in. According to Brandt, who did an interview about his book with JOE, Sheeran made money after World War II helping out in organised crime, and Russell Bufalino, the biggest mob boss in New York City at the time, allegedly put Sheeran and Hoffa in touch with each other. You know, so Sheeran could “take care of” people for Hoffa. “Hoffa was in Detroit, Frank was in Philly, the first words uttered to Frank by Hoffa were ‘I heard you paint houses’ meaning I heard you whack people — the paint is the blood that splatters on the wall,” Brandt said. “Sheeran replied by saying ‘Yeah, I do my own carpentry, too’ which means I get rid of the bodies. Frank got the job, the next day he was flown to Detroit and he started working for Hoffa.”
Did Frank Sheeran Really Kill Jimmy Hoffa?
When things went south with Bufalino and Hoffa, Bufalino allegedly ordered Sheeran to kill Hoffa, according to Brandt, and it “haunted him” every day after. Is it true? Well, it depends on whom you ask. Publishers Weekly said that Brandt’s book (aka all of Sheeran’s confessions) didn’t have much in the way of credibility, but sensationalism sells! According to PBS, FBI agent Robert Garrity, the agent who worked Hoffa’s disappearance case, wrote a memo saying that there were at least a dozen other men who could have made Hoffa vanish. It could have been Sheeran, but Hoffa wasn’t exactly a well-liked man, you know?
Not to be outdone, Sheeran claimed to have killed mob bosses like Joey Gallo, too. He also said he was a part of the Kennedy assassination and bribed Nixon.
It's interesting to speculate the reality of it all, and it's all certainly interesting enough for Scorsese to earmark almost a quarter of a billion dollars for the tale. Is all of The Irishman true, though? Probably not, but that's never stopped a movie before.